Associated Press Writer
TOWNSEND - Relatives of a Georgia man charged with slaying his father and seven others in a mobile home insisted Saturday that he would never harm his family, with the suspect's brother speculating a dispute over drugs could have prompted the killings.
Family members spoke to reporters outside a mass graveside funeral for the seven of the victims slain a week earlier inside the home they shared near the Georgia coast.
Their grief was mixed with shock after police charged 22-year-old Guy Heinze Jr. on Friday with eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his kin, including the suspect's father, uncle, aunt and four cousins. The eighth victim was a boyfriend of one of the cousins, and his funeral arrangements are pending.
"I know my brother didn't do this. My brother has a conscience," 16-year-old Tyler Heinze told reporters outside the rural cemetery where seven caskets topped with roses rested atop freshly dug graves.
"I can say there was drug involvement in the house and I think somebody ripped somebody off and somebody needed to get their money back," Tyler Heinze said. "Maybe somebody in the house double-crossed someone. It could've been my brother who double-crossed somebody, and it could be part of his fault that somebody came in there and did this." The teen said he had once lived at the mobile home but now stays with his stepfather.
Police have refused to say how the victims died or what evidence they have against Heinze Jr., who reported the gruesome scene to authorities Aug. 29 in a chilling 911 call, frantically telling a dispatcher "My whole family's dead!" He said they appeared to have been beaten to death when he found them.
Heinze had been jailed soon after the slayings on charges of illegal possession of prescription drugs and marijuana, as well as lying to police and evidence tampering.
Tyler Heinze declined to speak in detail about drug use at the mobile home.
"I'm not going to sit here and ruin my family's name," he said. "I don't want people to think my family was trash. They were hardworking people."
William Heinze said his jailed grandson worked construction jobs hanging drywall and wanted to be a truck driver like his father. He said the family called him "Little Guy," until he outgrew his father.
"He loved his dad. I know in that 911 call that we heard on the news, he was devastated to find his dad dead like that," William Heinze said. "I just can't believe it, unless they really had some proof."
Dozens gathered Saturday for the funeral at the Young's Island Community Church of God in McIntosh County, about 20 miles north of the mobile home park where the slayings occurred in neighboring Glynn County.
The copper-colored casket of the family patriarch, 44-year-old Rusty Toler Sr., sat beneath a green tent with the coffins of his two sons - Russell Jr., 20, and Michael, 19 - on either side. In front of them were two white caskets containing Toler's daughters, 22-year-old Chrissy and 15-year-old Michelle.
Beside the Toler men sat the caskets of Toler Sr.'s sister Brenda Gail Falagan, 49. Draped in an American flag, a nod to his prior Army service, was Guy Heinze Sr. He and Toler Sr. had been inseparable since childhood and referred to each other as brothers, though they were not blood relations, said Heinze Sr.'s father, William Heinze.
One victim, identified by police as Chrissy Toler's 3-year-old son, Byron Jimerson Jr., survived with critical injuries and remained hospitalized in Savannah.
Joseph L. West, Chrissy Toler's boyfriend and the eighth victim, had enlisted Heinze Jr. a few times to help work on his family's shrimp boat, said Otis West, the slain man's brother. He said he didn't know Heinze well, but he seemed like "a good guy."
"To tell the truth, if you had ever been around him, he didn't seem like anybody who would do something like this," West said Saturday. "But you never know."
A friend who went to high school with Heinze in Brunswick said he kept to himself, but he was always nice and respectful. Ashley Strickland said she wanted police to reveal the evidence against Heinze because she doesn't believe he's the killer.
"As far as I know, they've always been a very tight-knit family," Strickland said. "They've had their fights but they've always made up."
Clint Rowe, a family spokesman, said relatives were still shocked at Heinze's arrest.
"It floored them," said Rowe, an uncle by marriage to the four Toler children. "He was part of the family."
Heinze Jr. was among 10 people living in the 980-square-foot home that Toler Sr., whom he considered an uncle, rented for $405 a month.
Gail Montgomery, who manages the New Hope Plantation mobile home park, said Toler had taken in Heinze Jr., his father and other relatives because they'd fallen on hard times and couldn't find work.
Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering said two new pieces of information led authorities to charge Heinze late Friday. He would not say what that information was or how the victims died.
The chief also declined to say whether police believe Heinze acted alone.
Heinze's arrest warrant for the evidence tampering charge says he admitted removing a shotgun from the home and trying to hide it from police in the trunk of his car. He told police he thought the gun was stolen.
Heinze was released on bond on the lesser charges for about two hours Friday before he was charged with murder and returned to the county jail.
Heinze's attorney, Ron Harrison, did not immediately return several phone calls Saturday, but he has said Heinze denied any part in the slayings.